Read An Excerpt
September 6, 247 H.E.
I should have known tonight’s watch would kiss the mule’s bum when Sergeant Ahuda stopped me after baton training. “A private word, Cooper,” she told me, and pulled me into a quiet corner of the training yard. Her dark eyes were sharp on my face. We’d gotten on well since I’d finished my Puppy year and in my five months’ work as a Dog. I couldn’t think what I might have done to vex her.
“Your reports have gotten sloppy.” That was Ahuda, never one to soften her words. “You leave out detail, you skip what’s said. You used to write the best reports of any Puppy or first year Dog, but not of late. Have you slacked on the memory exercises?”
I gazed at the ground. Of course I’ve been slacking. What’s the use, with partners like I’ve had? Ahuda put her brown fist under my chin and thrust my head up so I’d look her in the eye. “Shall I send you back to Puppy training for a refreshing in memory study?”
“Sarge, please don’t.” The plea left my mouth before I could stop the words. Goddess, not Puppy training again, not even one class! I’d never hear the end of it!
Ahuda took her fist away and propped it on one of her sturdy hips. “Then however you kept your memory quick before, start doing it again. Steel yourself, wench! You’re not the only first-year Dog with partners who are less than gold. Work with it!”
She marched back to the kennel. I went to wash and put on my uniform. We had the Happy Bag to collect tonight, me and my partner Silsbee. Our route took us along Fortunetellers’ Walk, where I’d be sure to find a shop that sold journal books. I’d thought I wouldn’t need to keep one after my Puppy year, but if Ahuda was complaining of my reports, it was time to start again.
I didn’t even have Pounce to make me feel better as we mustered for the Evening Watch. The cat had stopped coming with us three days after I’d been partnered with Silsbee. I’d begged him to come. It was Pounce’s remarks about folk, and about Silsbee himself, that made it easier for me to walk patrol with the man, but Pounce would have none of it.
He bores me, and he only lets you do boring things, too, my annoying constellation cat said. I see no reason why both of us should be bored.
And so I went out to collect our Happy Bag’s worth of bribes with Silsbee and no one else, listening to him jabber about the meal his wife had prepared before he came on watch. Those huge meals are one reason that when we reached our patrol route, I visited all the shopkeepers with businesses upstairs. On Fortunetellers’ Walk they went up three and four stories, each room with a crystal reader, or a palm reader, or any other kind of reader. Silsbee stood below and blabbered with the ground-floor shopkeepers. They brought him drinks and cakes, stupid loobies. Did they think he’d run after the Rat that stole their goods? I did all the climbing in the miserable heat, just as I would run down their Rats when they came.
We gathered the Happy Bag and finished our watch. Ersken invited me to supper with him, his partner Birch, and some of the others, but I was in no mood for it. I just don’t feel like I earn that extra bit from the Happy Bag with Silsbee dragging at me all the time. It makes me feel low.
I was walking through the kennel courtyard when I noticed that Silsbee waited by the gate. He crooked a finger at me. “A word with ye, Cooper,” he said.
My temples banged. The last thing I wanted was any kind of speech with that sheep biter when I was off duty, but he was my senior partner. I went to him.
“I’ll speak with Sergeant Ahuda, but ye’ve the right to know first. I’m requestin’ a new partner.” He dug at his teeth with a wooden pick. “Ye really deserve that name they give ye, Terrier. Y’ are a Terrier. Ye make me nervous, with yer hands and feet twitchin’ and yer teeth grindin’, allus wantin’ t’ chase after every wee noise and squeak. Even in this weather! If I was younger—but I ain’t. It’s best we say we’re not suited before we get fond.”
“You’re cutting me loose.” I said it slow, just to be sure I had it right. It hurt, to hear the nickname I was so proud of turned against me.
“Ye give me fidgets.” He shrugged and held out his hands as if to say, “What am I to do?”
“You—” I said, trying not to show my fury. “Do you know how many Rats I could have caught and hobbled, had you not held me back?”
“Now, Cooper, don’t make me write ye up for sauce.” He waved that disgusting toothpick at me. There was a chunk of something on its end.
“You want to hear sauce?” Two weeks of working with the louse boiled over and out of my mouth. “You walk a bit, and you stop for a jack of ale. Then you stroll a block or three, till you need ‘a wee tidbit,’ as would feed a family of five. A cove gets his pocket picked? ‘We’ll have Day Watch pick that Rat up,’ you say. ‘There’s folk with children to feed on Day Watch as can use the bribes.’ Someone cries murder a street over? ‘Plenty of folk hereabouts put up a shout because they like to make me run. I ain’t a-fallin’ for that trick again.’ Once we get there, any Rats are gone—it’s enough to make a mot scream.”
“I’m beginnin’ t’ see why ye’re not well favored when it comes to partners, Cooper,” he said. “Ye say nothin’ for days, then ye talk sewer muck.”
He strolled into the kennel, as smug as a tax man with soldiers at his back. I stood there, shaking, my hands clenched so tight around my new-bought journal that they cramped.